Protecting your sensitive information is a necessity in a world filled with dastardly but brilliant identity thieves. It seems like every time there’s a breakthrough in identity theft prevention, the greedy burglars work their way around it in no time. You might think it will never happen to you, but statistics say differently. According to a recent study, over 12.7 million people were victims of identity theft in 2014 alone and lost a collective $16 billion in the process. There’s no one answer to complete prevention, but a variety of safety precautions can combine to further prevent your sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.
Be Careful Who You “Friend”
It’s tempting to fill our social media pages with personal information that seems harmless, but identity thieves prey on this mistake. Don’t accept strange friend requests or follows, don’t post your address or phone number, and be careful about using your full name.
File Early, File Correctly
We’re in the final month of tax season here, so this tip is for future years. The sooner you file, the less chance identity thieves have as they’ll have a smaller window in which they can file a return under your name. Don’t rush your filing process as you want to ensure all is correct and avoid hot water, but do it thoroughly and efficiently—possibly with the help of a tax professional if need be.
The Password Game
You likely have online accounts for all of the important facets of life: credit cards, banking, shopping, school, even professional outlets. With all of this important information just a few encryptions away, identity thieves easily prey on online accounts. Protecting yourself could be as simple as getting creative with your passwords. Experts across the board agree that it’s a terrible idea to have the same password or closely similar passwords for multiple accounts, so do your best to make a different, unique code each time.
The Social Security Issue
When talking about identity theft, the general population probably thinks of a stolen social security number, and for good reason. Required in many of life’s common events, handing out your social security number can be a scary task. Take renting an apartment, for example. It’s common for landlords to request a background check, but make sure they’re doing so through a trusted source and that you’re not just handing over your personal information for them to do with as they will. Be cautious of online prompts to enter your social security number; it’s usually only applicable in banking situations and the like, and you should consider a prompt for your SSN to be a red flag in every situation that comes up on the Internet—better safe than sorry. In the same way, be wary of what you do with your social security card. There are few times in life you’ll need the card on your person, so keep it locked away in a safe and pull it out only when absolutely necessary.
Keep a Close Eye on Your Statements
With automatic payment pervading the lives of many, it’s easy to pay off our credit card bills without even lifting a finger or taking a glance at our expenditures, but this can be a big mistake. If someone has stolen your credit card information, the first place you notice out of the usual charges would be on your statement, especially if they were strange charges that your bank or credit card company missed. Even if you just check your statements monthly, you’ll increase your chances of spotting suspicious activity and reporting it before it goes on for too long. In most cases, the fraudulent charges will be voided or you’ll get your money back.
Fire Up That Shredder
If you’re a notorious packrat, make sure you’re not saving papers that should have been destroyed. Any document with sensitive information that you no longer need should be shredded properly and disposed of to avoid letting that important info fall into the wrong hands.
These small steps combined can add up to a big difference in your identity theft vulnerability. Make sure you’re doing your due diligence and keep your personal information private to stay safe.